I really disliked ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ when I watched it in the cinema - and I had to go twice with different groups of people. I particularly objected to the buggy chase on the planet. Why even employ four-wheeled modes of transport when you have shuttles and a transporter? When I rewatched it for athird time on TV; the movie slightly grew on me, though. It’s not as bad as I first thought, the villain is interesting and the crash of spaceships actually one of the most cinematic scenes in a Star Trek movie of the time.
I watched lots of movies recently, but was too busy to post anything, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. Let’s start with a few recent duds:
Alien: Covenant (2017)
While watching ‘Prometheus’, the first prequel to the original ‘Alien’ movie, I had the feeling that Ridley Scott would have rather made a standalone science-fiction film about the creation and extraterrestrial origin of mankind without any reference to ‘Alien’ mythology, which seemed to get in the way of the story rather than enhancing it.
However, the series’ producers apparently thought that there wasn’t enough ‘Alien’ in ‘Prometheus’, which is understandable from a commercial point of view. As a result, the main narrative about the so-called “Engineers” is mostly dropped in this prequel-sequel (the “Episode II” of the franchise). The only thing tying this movie to its immediate predecessor is the android David (Michael Fassbender), who was the best thing about ‘Prometheus’. That’s what the makers of this film must have thought as well, because Fassbender doesn’t just get to play one, but two androids. And when the new “synthetic” meets David, it just goes to show that two Fassbender-bots aren’t better than one. There is a particularly cringeworthy scene, in which David I teaches David II (forgot his name) how to play the flute in a, erm, homoerotic (?), no, autoerotic (?), no, roboerotic (!) way.
Other than that, Scott has apparently been told to include all the staples of an Alien movie – the chestbusters, the facehuggers, the nonchalant disregard of quarantine procedures and so on. While ‘Alien: Covenant’ plays like a “The best of Alien” highlights reel, no chestbusting scene will ever be as good as the first time you watched ‘Alien’ - or the second and third time. Indeed, the movie feels like Scott is just ticking off the boxes on a to do-list. At least, he shows some visual panache and there were a few scenes, which I liked. That being said, the narrative is disjointed and downright stupid with badly developed characters doing dumb stuff. I mean, what good will it do to take large guns with you while exploring an unknown planet, when you fail to take even the most basic safety precautions and sniff on the first spore-emitting fungus, which you encounter? Even with modest expectations, this is a disappointment. 4/10
The Mummy (2017)
The words “dumb” and “disappointment” aptly describe the remake of the 1930ies Universal horror classic ‘The Mummy’ as well. Of course, this is more than just a remake, it’s the set-up for Universal Studio’s “dark universe”, which is meant to bring together all the classic horror creatures from their portfolio of intellectual property rights. (Aren’t you looking forward to the creature from the black lagoon teaming up with the bride of Frankenstein as well?) Not that this is a particularly original idea – quite apart from the obvious template of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Frankenstein met the Wolfman in the 1940ies already and you may vaguely remember the rubbish film ‘Van Helsing’, which reinterpreted the eponymous vampire hunter as a James Bond-like monster hunter.
Like the Indiana Jones-inspired Mummy trilogy of a decade ago, the 2017 remake is primarily an adventure movie, although it is more horror-oriented. If forced to pigeonhole ‘The Mummy’ into any movie genre, I would categorise it as neither adventure nor horror, but simply as a Tom Cruise vehicle. The movie is not really about ancient curses and the likes, but about Cruise flashing his perfect teeth, performing remarkable stunts on airplanes and doing the dynamic running, which he does so well. He plays a treasure-hunting U.S. marine, who discovers an ancient Egyptian burial site in North Iraq and if you think that, first, it doesn’t make sense that you would find Egyptian tombs in Kurdistan and, second, that soldiers have little opportunity for a bit of tomb raiding while on active duty, you would be right, but these are actually the least of the movie’s logical problems. Consider, for example, that a plane crashes in or near London during the day, but that the crash site is still not cordoned off and unsecured by nighttime. (Although, strangely enough, some corpses are already in the morgue while others are still lying around, waiting to be reanimated into zombie-like undead creatures). Some critics have had a field day with Russell Crowe’s accent, which just about covers all of the Anglosphere, often in one or two sentences. I think that this is nitpicking whenyou can watch any five minutes of the movie and find about as many contradictions. Hey, at least that zero gravity stunt on the plane is good (it’s also in the trailer).
Admittedly, I wasn’t up for watching something with substance while I rented ‘The Mummy’ and it satisfied my desire for undemanding, escapist entertainment to some extent. What I want to say is that it’s not a truly bad movie if watched in the right frame of mind. There are worse movies out there. 4/10
XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (2017)
Speaking of which, I had to look up what the original ‘XXX’ movie was all about, because, thankfully, I had forgotten it existed. I also wasn’t aware of a sequel, but you don’t need to watch any of those in order to understand ‘XXX: The Return of Xander Cage’. There’s simply nothing to understand here.
The idea behind the franchise is to update the James Bond formula to the 21st century and to make the concept more palatable to modern audiences. You know, what James Bond movies have attempted to do since the start of the century already. The ‘XXX’ movies use Roger Moore-era James Bond movies as the jumping-off point and make the stunts more unbelievable, the humour more crass and the plot as stupid as it could possibly get. Hey, in ‘XXX: The Return of Xander Cage’ you can fall of a viaduct onto a motorway, get a few Kung Fu kicks in the teeth, be hit by a car at 50 mph and still jump up to run after the bad guy. Although I’m not sure whether I should describe anybody in this movie as the bad guy, because allegiances are so muddled and shift so often that it is absolutely arbitrary what happens on screen. The only thing for sure is that Vin Diesel is the good guy and can growl really well.
I don’t want to come across as too sniffy. There’s a place in my heart for easily digestible action movies. That place is not reserved for ‘XXX’ movies, though. 3/10